Toxic nationalism -The Express Tribune

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What does it mean to be a Pakistani? Does it mean someone living up to the ideals that led to the creation of Pakistan or it means someone who is ‘dumb, deaf and blind’ to injustices committed in the name of religion, security and unity? Or it means someone who believes in the multiple identities within a broader framework of Pakistaniat? Or being Pakistani simply means living with contradictions and paradoxes? In the last connotation, we will not always be all right and wrong in matters affecting us together and so we will have to make some allowance for dissenting voices and deviant behaviours.

To reduce the creation of Pakistan to a single problem that Muslims faced in the British-ruled India is simplistic in characterisation and problematic in running a modern state. Simplistic in the sense that neither Muslims’ identity was as much at stake to warrant demand for a separate homeland nor was any political/economic deprivation that could have been used to garner popular support for partition. Prominent Muslim leaders such as Abul Kalam Azad and Hussain Ahmad Madani strongly believed in the united India with Muslims playing a key role in politics, business and civil affairs.

They were of the view that marginalisation of Muslims was a necessary outcome of the British rule which could be addressed under a new scheme of governance post-independence. They had the US confederation in mind with independent states subscribing to joint defence, foreign policy and currency. A united India, in their view, would be more powerful, peaceful and prosperous. Whether or not they were right cannot be objectively verified in the absence of counter-factual evidence but in a hindsight they were not entirely wrong in their assessment given the perennial confrontation between India and Pakistan, ubiquitous poverty in both countries, and the legacy of British raj in governance systems still in vogue (especially in Pakistan).

Problematic because many Muslims in Pakistan and Hindus in India believe that status of a citizen is determined by one’s faith rather than it has anything to do with one’s birth, allegiance to the constitution, or service to the nation. Nationalism based on race, religion or other traditional markers tacitly approves of permanent expulsion of minorities from the ‘book’ of citizenship. For example, one can hear the BJP leaders screaming on Muslims in public to move to Pakistan (as if their loyalty to India is doubtful) and some Pakistanis opposing the construction of Mandir (Temple) in Islamabad (as if Hindus are not equal citizens).

This archaic idea of nationalism gives the demagogues a field day to manipulate public sentiments to their advantage by manufacturing facts, redefining history, and flaunting military strength. Ordinary folks are forced to look at the world and themselves through the lens of ‘us versus them’ and ‘super-inferior’ human beings in an environment founded on the notions of hyper-nationalism. Stories and narratives (ideologies) make people forget about their true physical and mental wellbeing and live in fantasies (false consciousness). Real problems and challenges of today and tomorrow remain underground or are relegated to the background by those occupying the power structures.

But countries promoting the silly nationalism (which divides humanity and sows the seeds of hatred) cannot survive for too long. Unity at macro level gradually shatters and frictions at micro level emerge within the entity (nation, community) once thought to be indivisible. The hate-driven nationalism and the countries espousing it ultimately evaporate into nothingness. True harmony and progress require redefining nationalism by creating social and political environment that rewards civic contribution and character rather than any particular race, religion or class. All this means that one can and should love one’s country and ethnic group without harbouring ill-feelings and hatred for others. Our outer identity defined by blood and geography should not blind us to our core identity — humanity!